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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Parable of the Tall, Tall Tree

There was a small village, and on the edge of town it held a small park. This park was filled with mighty pecan trees. The people from the town would come out to the park to harvest the pecans, and they would sit the in shade of the mighty trees to rest when they were done.

In a clearing in the very center of the park was a small pecan tree. She barely even looked like a tree, she practically disappeared when the grass needed mowing. It's a miracle she didn't get cut down. She would watch as the people came and went, enjoying the fruit and the shade of the mighty trees all around her. She decided that she, too, needed to be tall and mighty. Each day, she invested all of her energy into growing taller and taller. She grew fast enough that she did not get mowed down, and the people in the village marveled at how fast and how tall she grew. In just a few years she was able to produce pecans and provide the people with shade. She became the favorite tree for the children, who loved to play tag and use her strong trunk as "base", a safe place where one would never get tagged "out" or "frozen" or whatever the rules were for the variety of tag that the children chose that day. There was also a young couple who chose her shade for their picnics. They had visited her on their first date, and their relationship had blossomed until now they were married and expecting their first child.

She loved being strong and tall. She loved providing pecans for the people from the village. The villagers loved her in return. All was well until one day when a child slammed into her trunk, shouting "home base"! She felt a tremor that went to her very core. This frightened the still young, yet very tall tree. Something was not right.

Soon, she began to notice that she wasn't producing as many pecans in the fall, or as many leaves in the spring. In fact, she had stopped growing altogether. It seemed that she would never grow any taller.

One night, a mighty storm came through the village. The children were safe at home with their parents, and the young couple was at home, soothing their crying newborn. The tree stood tall in that storm, until the wind began to blow, harder and harder. She felt that same tremor again, just as she had when the young child had touched her. Suddenly, she felt a loud snap, and, much to her horror, she crashed to the ground. The townspeople heard it from inside their homes, it was so loud.

The next morning, they all came out to check on their beloved tree. She was devastated, embarrassed, even, for them to see her this way. The townspeople were heartbroken because they loved this tree.

They called in some forestry experts to see what had gone wrong. The experts were quite surprised at what they found.
"This tree has almost not roots!" they said. "A tree this tall should have roots stretching deep and far to help it gain nourishment and to anchor it to the ground."

The tree had been in such a hurry to grow tall and mighty. She had not saved energy to make sure that her roots grew deep and strong.

Fortunately for her, the townspeople loved her enough to help her recover. They reburied what roots she had left. They fed the soil around her, and they propped her up with supports to keep her from toppling while she healed. They trimmed some of the larger branches so that she could focus more energy on her roots.

The tree knew she had lots of work to do, as well. She stopped trying to make so many pecans. She stopped growing taller altogether. Instead, she focused all of her energy on her roots. She grew them deep, she grew them wide. She grew stronger each day, but at her own, slow pace, until her branches matched her roots and  no storm would ever be a match for the strength that she had, both above ground and under the earth.

Reading, Writing, Calling, Feeling

Why should I write?

I have been most ministered to in my life by words. Sometimes spoken, but most often written. I have a small selection of books that I turn to when the world is spinning around me too fast and my feelings can't quite catch up with me. I feel my emotions breathing down my neck, telling me they have things to teach me. But I just walk faster, sometimes I break into a run. I throw weapons of busyness at them, sometimes in the form of work, but just as often in the name of stupid things like social media and Netflix. Sometimes I try to stuff them away as I stuff junk food into my face.

They wait patiently while I fight the very thing that brings wisdom and healing every time.

When I write, I let them come. It hurts, and I only do it as a last resort, when they are bearing down on me, looking scary, but in actuality they are full of nothing but wisdom and healing.

I write for myself. To process, to heal.

I am working up the courage to share what I write so that I can help others like me process and heal, as well.

I struggle with allowing myself to be vulnerable. I've come a long way, and I have a long way to go.

The words of others have shaped me, healed me, guided me.

I feel something inside me stretching sometimes. Stretching to get out and connect. I don't like it, to be honest. I'm not sure what to name that thing. It's already named "calling", I suspect. It's calling for me to uncurl into the farthest corners of who I was made to be. It's calling for me to let others in and to let myself out fully, because that is what an all powerful, all knowing creator designed me for. Designed us all for.

If we fully stretch into what we were created to be, how much power is in that? Or, how much pain and humiliation? That is what those feelings breathing down my neck are trying to walk me through right now.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I am quite a mess this week. It usually happens this time of year, with the cold and the routines and the gray. However, this year is different. In good and bad ways. Really, they are all good ways, but more difficult.

I can't check out. I can't stay home in my pajamas all day and procrastinate. Now that I'm in seminary, It's finals week. I have to be even more on top of my game this week. Except, we are all sick and I'm running on zero sleep in addition to the stress and seasonal emotional issues.

How am I handling it all? Well, like I said, I'm an emotional mess, but I don't know if anyone else can tell. I'm bad about that. I don't mean to be a fake, but I don't seem to let on enough how bad off I really am. Every hour is a battle, but my prayer life is getting stronger. I don't mean to overreact, it's just that I'm sorting out a lot right now, and it makes doing the day to day a little more difficult.

If you ask my why I'm stressed and sad, I can't really give a straight answer. Yes, I'm stressed because I have some really big tests coming up and I don't have the time or brainpower to prepare properly. I also don't have good enough grades to be able to afford bombing my finals.

However, I think I'm mostly stressed because I'm figuring out my role in life. I don't know why I choose the most inopportune times to struggle with this. It really would make sense if I could just tuck my head and get through the next week before having another existential crisis, but I just don't function that way. I'm not too sure what I believe about the devil these days, but whatever it is, it's out to get me this week, I'm sure of it.

Am I a good enough mother? Wife? Student? Minister? What am I called to do, exactly, and how do I go about pursuing it? How does who I was mesh with the role I am in now? I used to be 100% homemaker, and it wasn't a good fit for me, but I had the experience and knowhow to do it. Now I'm about 50% student, and the rest is a weird, constantly shuffling mixture of mom, wife, and woman. I know that I married young, had kids young, and never went through that adolescent "who am I and where do I fit in this world?" thing, mostly on account of I never stopped to question the role that was set before me. Who set that role for me? It was a combination of voices; largely my own, unwilling to compromise and be human, voice.

How can I possibly be all of the things that I'm trying to be, and why am I trying to be them, anyway? I desperately want to live out the call I feel on my life, and continue to better equip myself for it. However, I also have some pretty heavy family commitments and a deep need for roots and community that are being neglected right now, as I pursue that training and calling.

How do I do it all? I know that I can't, but I also do not feel free (or want to) eliminate anything.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Soul Care and Soul Searching

I am working on soul care these days. It's not the same as being spiritual, I do plenty of that. It's also not the same as talking about God, which I also do my share of. It's about intentionally making time for the things that are life giving to me. The things that make me better for all of the other things in my life. Writing is definitely important for my soul. If I have the chance to write, it can turn my whole day around.

Reading/escape are also important for me. Somewhere along the lines, my only strategy for dealing with stress or pain was to retreat into another, imaginary world (via tv, books, or the internet). I'm free to feel my feelings there, but it's not real, so it's not as threatening. It's an escape from the real world. All of the personality tests that I've taken say that I have trouble with the details in life. It's true. Give me a mountain and I'll gladly climb it. Ask me to do a series of small, inane tasks and I will shut down. I don't know why, and it's really detrimental to this whole maintaining a house and family thing. Thankfully, my husband is a details guy, and we're learning how to divvy things up according to personality type. So, it's important for me to escape the pressures of daily life, but I need to find a way to do so in a healthy way that isn't just running away. I'm still working on that one.

I also know that I need consistent exercise. Nothing too strenuous, just enough to get my blood pumping and my endorphins going. Every since my surgery back in May, I've been afraid to get back to exercise. Just 15 minutes of yoga 3 times a week really helps. Walking would be nice, too, but I never have a chance to walk without the kids, which is more like herding cats while slowly moving forward. Not exactly exercise. Exercising my patience, maybe.

So, there I have it: Read, Write, Exercise. I need to do these consistently in order to do the other things in my life well. How can I make time for this when I'm as busy as I've ever been? Well, priorities are important, so I'll figure it out, I suppose.

Seminary is testing me in whole new ways, and I'm still learning how to express it. I know I dwell on it too much, but I still struggle with the change in roles. I love being a student. I love the freedom I have to use my mind and discover my voice. It's scary, though. Every day it's scary. What if I'm not worthy to ever lead? What if I fail at this? What if I make a fool of myself? What about the woman I was, the homemaker? The wife? I know that I couldn't have gone on forever as a stay at home mom, but I feel like I've completely abandoned the identity I had this time last year and replaced it with this new one. Who I was will always be a big part of who I am now. I have to learn how to grow and change and still be me. I guess I'm just now doing a lot of the self-exploration that most people do during adolescence. I think I spent too much time being who I thought I was supposed to be instead of discovering who I really am made to be. This sounds so cliche, which may be another reason that I ran from it for so long. The concept of "finding ones self" really is laughable, except I find that I am at an impasse, and I can move forward until I know who I will be on the rest of this journey.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Yourself in my shoes

I haven't updated in a while, for a combination of reasons. I've been very busy. I decided to tack a Master's of Divinity on with my MSW degree. It has been a scary ride. The hours are long and the reading soul-searching never ends. I'm learning so much about myself and my calling.

And that is why the words have stopped for a while. I have a calling. I really did not want to admit that to myself, because being called to the ministry is scary. I thought I knew what it meant when, at 17, I walked an aisle and told my church I was surrendering to the ministry. I really didn't even know what that meant, especially for a female like myself.

I went off to college, made some great friends and got me a great husband. We always ran hard and fast after what we felt God was calling us to do. Inner city ministry, international ministry.

Then, I had my first baby, and I did what (I thought) any good Christian woman would have to do - I quit all other forms of ministry in order to minister to my home. My husband got a job as a youth minister, and I became a stay at home mom. (I did work briefly at a crisis pregnancy center in between babies number one and two, but other than that, I stayed at home with my kids.)

Imagine that you are me now. You have been told that you needed to go and do great things for God. You have literally traveled the world sharing the gospel. You've walked foreign streets and eaten strange foods. You've learned new languages. You've felt the deep darkness all around you that is poverty, oppression, abuse. You've felt both exhilarated and beaten down by your work, but you felt fulfilled.

Now, imagine that you are trying, trying with all of your might to be the best homemaker you can possibly be. This is your calling, after all. Anyway, your husband is ministering hard enough for the both of you, what with being in seminary and working for the church so much. You start to resent seminary. You start to resent the church. You feel that there is no place for you there.

You start a blog. It starts out as a homemaking blog. A natural homemaking blog. Its fun, and you like the cooking and the gardening and the little cloth diapers. Somehow, though, things get away from you and you find yourself writing more and more about social justice issues. About the Gospel. You feel this fire burning inside of you, these words. People thank you for your words, for sharing your heart. You start to think that maybe you have something to say to the world, and that you'll do that through your blog. In you free time after taking care of your home and kids, of course.

Then, on Valentine's day 2013, you find out that you are pregnant again. This will be the third baby in three years. The days become relentless. There is screaming, there is crying, and it's often coming from you. So tired. Insomnia keeps you from sleeping more than 3 hours a night, and still the children need you, all. day. long.

You are failing at this calling. You are a terrible homemaker. You can't be the support you husband needs. You still have these words burning inside of you, but every time you sit down to write, one of them needs you, or you just can't shake the other responsibilities off long enough to write. You are beyond tired.

You feel terrible because, instead of seeing your children as gifts, you see them as little prison sentences, with the birth of each one extending your time by just that much. This fire inside of you won't go away, as much as you wish it would. You feel so selfish for having this need to write. You feel guilty for being distracted from you true calling - your home. That's what they told you was your calling, and you just don't know any other way.

You can't stand to look in the mirror. You start seeing a plastic surgeon, hoping to cut away the things that are making you not enough. You almost go through with it. You have no idea that it's not the outer issues that you are unwilling to face. You have no idea who you are anymore.

You think about leaving. Every day. You hate yourself for it.

Then, over the course of six months, everything starts to change. God steps in. He doesn't really say much, but light starts to break through, and you start to see it all around you - something is going on here. You have no idea what, but you see the path in front of you. Not the path ahead, mind you, just the next step. If you knew everything that lie ahead, you would be paralyzed and you've never take that next step.

God speaks to you in a way usually reserved for cheesy pulpit stories - go to Baylor, he says. What? Waco? Nah.

You decide social work might be a good fit for you and you're husband's future ministry plans. You look everywhere but Baylor. You end up, of course, at Baylor. Through a strange and frustrating turn of events, you commit yourself to seminary, too.

The thing is, by this point, after the last 5 years, you can't imagine that God has called you to be a minister. You don't even like his bride the Church anymore, after all. And yet, you can't believe how much you are thriving in seminary classes. You feel this strange stirring inside of you again, and it terrifies you. You want to run back to the life you left behind, the one that felt like such a prison. The only thing that keeps you from doing it is the fact that you failed so miserably at that life last time.

The voices from your past torment you every day - you're being selfish they say. You've abandoned your true calling, they say - your home. You are a waste of space at seminary, they say.

Then, that light breaks through a little more. That fire inside of you? You start to feel in again, and your soul starts to thaw. It's scary. You keep moving forward. You feel alive and fulfilled again. Your family doesn't fall apart - it thrives. For the first time in a long time, people see you. Not just the mom or the wife, but the woman. It terrifies you and takes some getting used to.

You slowly start to uncurl from the knot you didn't even realize you'd tied yourself into, and you fight every day to open your arms and heart. To learn again to let that fire inside of you burn unhampered. It hurts, and you don't always win that fight, but you feel that you are finally growing into yourself, and it is going to be okay.